Monday 8 November 2021

#BookReview - THE AMBER CRANE By Malve von Hassell @MvonHassell

By Malve von Hassell

Publication Date: 25th June 2021
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Page Length: 268 Pages
Genre: Time-Slip Historical Fiction / Young Adult

Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.

Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.

Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?

As long and almost as wide as his hand, with an elongated shape, this piece of amber was dark honey-brown with tinges of red. He turned it over and rubbed the long shank sticking out. It reminded him of a crane, with its wings furled, one leg hidden inside the feathers, as if asleep just before setting out for the long journey south. 

Peter Glienke dreamed not of following in the footsteps of his father, a shipping merchant, nor did he want to become a soldier, like his late older brother, Lorenz. Instead, Peter dreams of becoming a journeyman, moulding amber and turning it from a piece of fossilised tree resin into a beautiful treasure. Peter can see in his mind all the splendid colours of the amber, he can see the possibilities of what could be and what might be.

However, with the restraining hand of the amber guild hovering over him, Peter is given the boring and repetitive task of making prayer beads. But when he finds two pieces of raw amber, he cannot help himself. Despite knowing the laws against keeping any amber found, Peter can’t bear to part with the two pieces. He feels a connection to the amber, a feeling unlike anything he has ever felt before.

The Amber Crane by Malve von Hassell tells the story of how those two pieces of amber would change Peter’s life forever.

Despite having been an apprentice for nearly three years, Peter struggles with the craft—he does not have the patience to sit around making beads all day. He is trapped by the repetition of the job. When he pockets the amber, Peter begins to feel alive, the images of what the pieces could be are very clear in his mind. To work on the pieces in Master Nowak’s workshop would be to betray his master’s trust. However, he can’t get out of his head the image of the larger piece of amber, masterfully crafted into the image of a crane.

Peter’s attachment to the amber is more than just that of an object he wants to keep. The amber transports him to a world unknown, where he meets a girl, Lioba. This world is full of words and objects he is not familiar with, and yet, there is a sense of the familiarity in both centuries (1644 and 1944). The parallels between the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the Second World War cannot be overlooked. War always creates fear and anguish, and both wars lead to an influx of refugees who are desperately trying to find somewhere safe to reside and rebuild their lives. Both eras are very violent, there is seemingly endless fighting, but also civilian homes are ransacked and torn apart. However, while Peter still has his home and his village, Lioba has no one. The whole concept of time-travel is magical if done right, and that is certainly the case in this novel. But, unlike conventional time-travel novels, Peter cannot travel to Lioba’s era when he is awake, he has to be asleep. I really liked this idea, it reminded me somewhat of James Cameron’s, Avatar.

Amber is like a crane in many ways—a rock of little beauty and a disproportionate sized bird. The true wonder shines through when the rock is polished, when the bird takes flight and the beauty of both soars. Peter longs to be as free as the cranes in the sky, but his situation denies him every ounce of freedom he could hope for. The amber guild may restrict his creative freedom, but at home, he is forced to live in Lorenz’s shadow. Peter’s father is swallowed up by the intense grief at the loss of both his eldest son and his wife, and Peter’s sister is a burden that Peter never wanted. His sister, Effie, is not healthy, nor strong, and suffers terribly, spending most of her time rocking back and forth, never speaking a word. Lorenz understood Effie, he cared deeply for her, but Peter couldn’t understand how, and never developed a deep bond with his sister, never quite understanding, and never taking quite long enough to listen to the stories her silence had to tell. As this novel progresses, both the stories of Lioba and Effie take their place alongside Peter’s, and, it seems, the amber that Peter took from the beach connects them all, whether it be a good thing or not.

The Amber Crane is aimed at a younger audience so it is no surprise that this novel brushes over some of the details of the horror of history, and indeed, with regard to Effie’s storyline, the author has taken particular care in how much she shares with the reader. The quickness of the narrative also means that there is no time to linger on some of the horrors in this novel. While an older audience may wish for a more in-depth emotional response, I thought the depiction of certain scenes was written with an empathetic understanding of this book’s intended audience.

The historical background of this novel has been depicted with a keen sense of understanding for both periods. Malve von Hassell has penned a novel of intrigue, danger, and consequence. All actions have outcomes, and this book gives a wonderfully rounded idea of the significance of Peter taking the pieces of amber, breaking the rules, and how it affects the lives of those around him. Everyone is affected in some way by his actions, and that extends far into the future, three hundred years into the future, to be exact. Taking the amber had both good and bad outcomes, and this novel explores the idea of just how far the effect of one decision can spread.

The Amber Crane by Malve von Hassell is a novel that is well crafted. Like a master craftsman working with the finest of ambers, this novel is an object of beauty and elegance.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Ellie Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schlie├čt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx